Building Leadership in the Classroom and Beyond
11/29/2011 12:00 AM ,
Leadership is a journey of personal and organizational discovery. And at Marmion Academy, ours is a story of just such an adventure—for our students, faculty, and the wider academic, learning community. As a Catholic-Benedictine college preparatory school for young men, located in Aurora, Illinois, we have long been dedicated to spiritual formation, academic excellence, and leadership development. These values form the core of our mission statement and also have served as the foundation of our Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Program. Launched in 2004, the LEAD program is just the most recent example of how we are fulfilling our commitment to develop the leaders of tomorrow, today.
What initially began in the mid-1990s as a program focused on leadership and service has become a deeply enriching experience that challenges our students to search for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve. In a collaboration of faculty and Marmion students, we have created a core base of leadership education with The Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership® at the heart of our curriculum. Built upon the solid framework of The Five Practices model and the Student Leadership Practices Inventory® (Student LPI®), our LEAD program is a two-class per week, four-year leadership studies course that is an integral part of our student’s academic education—from day one.
Initially selected for its research-based credibility, The Student Leadership Challenge has continued to prove successful engaging our young students in the study and practice of leadership development because it is so very student-focused and user-friendly. With just five easy-to-remember practices, the concepts and behaviors are easy to put into daily practice.
Our freshman and sophomore curriculum centers on personal leadership development using a wide variety of leadership resources. This provides a thorough introduction to The Five Practices and general instruction on other components of The Student Leadership Challenge. All of this is to give every student a working knowledge of the material so that we can all begin to create a common leadership language. The Five Practices and Ten Commitments poster hangs prominently in the classroom as an additional daily reminder of the behaviors we are working to master.
Curriculum for our juniors and seniors guides them as they continue on their personal leadership development journey, adding an organizational component to their learning and understanding of what it means to be an exemplary leader. We encourage our junior students, for example, to begin journaling about how they have acted on one of The Five Practices in their daily lives. As a weekly assignment, these journal entries can then be used as a chronological reminder of how they are personally integrating and demonstrating leadership behaviors.
In their junior year, students also get their first introduction to the idea of organizational development. Study and discussion assignments use various elements of The Student Leadership Challenge—the real catalyst that helps them move from personal development to using their leadership skills in an organizational setting (e.g., at work, at church, in school, in team sports). In the last two years of our students’ leadership education, we incorporate The Student Leadership Challenge book, along with the Student LPI, as well as other books by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner such as Credibility and The Truth About Leadership.
We’ve also found a wealth of valuable resources and tools online, plus a community of other professionals who are incorporating these principles and practices in leadership education and training. The Student Leadership Challenge website has a variety of materials that support use of the Student LPI and The Five Practices model in the classroom. In addition, on the “classic” Leadership Challenge website I’ve found useful case studies and examples of how professionals in business and organizations are using the model, which I’ve used to help students see all the ways that these practices apply to real-life circumstances.
The philosophy of the LEAD program is “Teen led with adult direction”: give them ownership and let them work.The way it works at Marmion is very much a give-and-take collaboration between teacher and student—an element of the program that embodies the philosophy of The Five Practices. The focus for all of our students is a continually developing journey of leadership in action and students have consistently played an important role in shaping the program to ensure that it works for them—during their high school years and beyond. So, understanding that the best way to learn is to teach, we decided to take on the challenge of having our students teach others.
Our first foray into this unique aspect of the program was a two-day leadership training camp for students at a local middle school, grades 6–8, taught by members of the LEAD program. Our students had never done anything like this before yet they seized the opportunity to innovate—definitely Challenging the Process. Despite inexperience, personal doubts, and apprehension, they created a curriculum that was engaging as well as fun for middle school students. And when they challenged themselves and were willing to take risks venturing into unfamiliar territory, our LEAD students realized that they actually could teach a three-day leadership camp to these younger students—and have it be successful! What a great win. On the last day of the camp, I remember seeing the student camp director standing at the back of the room with a wide grin on his face. When I asked him later why he was smiling, he replied that although he had his doubts that this camp idea would work, he was so glad it had and that he was a part of it. That seemed to me, a heart encouraged!
That first camp in 2004 was just the beginning of our training legacy. By continuing to Challenge the Process, learning from experience to improve, our leadership outreach programs have become better and bigger, involving more and more students, and reaching even further into the community. For middle school students, for example, what began as an initiative by our senior students now has our sophomore students running the camp, with the assistance and support of our upper class students as mentors. In fact, our sophomore students are excitedly awaiting the arrival of a new group of next generation leaders at our 8th Annual Middle School Summer Leadership Camp.
The core of Marmion’s LEAD program is to provide our students with real-world opportunities to explore the leadership theories taught in the classroom and bring The Five Practices to life by applying them in their daily lives. Indeed, several of our LEAD students featured in this video really tell the story best.
Like LEAD students Jeff Winkle and David Thielen portray in the video, the level of confidence our young leaders gain from their experiences in this program is a testament to the power of The Student Leadership Challenge. Our students feel empowered as they take on the responsibility of leadership training for others, setting the example as they Model the Way. They are reaching a broad audience of younger students, peers, and adults with confidence in their belief that everyone has the potential to lead—Enabling Others to Act. And they have incorporated The Five Practices into their everyday life, evidenced in the many ways they inspire their fellow students, coworkers, and teammates as they Encourage the Heart.
The Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership model has given Marmion’s young students one more set of tools in their leadership arsenal. When they present this material to others they demonstrate a depth of knowledge far beyond their chronological age. I’ve watched them grow and mature as young leaders, not afraid to challenge the process, but also with an understanding that they must walk the talk and model the way.
Upon graduation from Marmion Academy, our LEAD students are self-disciplined, self-motivated, and self-aware. They are compassionate, kind, and genuinely care for others. And we believe that these are the leadership qualities that set our LEAD students on the right path to provide the credible leadership our world needs to lead people, manage projects, and make meaningful contributions to the community.
Vince Bellafiore is Director of the Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Program at Marmion Academy in Aurora, IL, teaching a curriculum-based leadership program to high school students. He joined the Marmion staff after a career serving as a Sergeant with the Batavia Police Department. Vince has a Master of Science in Management from National-Louis University, and is a Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Category: Success Stories